‘A lot of standing around and checking nothing is creeping up on me’ was pretty much how my role helping out on the K2C hooded vulture project was explained to me. Sounds a tad boring, huh? As it turned out – not in the slightest. Sure, when Lindy was checking nests there wasn’t a lot I could do nor venture far from the tree, but there was plenty to see. Hooded vultures nest next to rivers, surrounded by dense bushes, so my main priority was to check that no hippos or elephants blundered past us – we’d seen plenty of footprints (pugmarks) and droppings (scat) to indicate that this was a real possibility. Despite this important duty, I still had the opportunity to watch any birds that were near-by through my binoculars, and there was a multitude of species that were new to me. Even if there hadn’t been any wildlife about, I still would’ve been happy just to stand at the base of the tree, collect any vulture feathers I could find (they would be posted to a geneticist to investigate the population’s genetic diversity) and intermittently attach ropes and tie things, because the area was stunning and there was sun. I know, ACTUAL visible sunlight AND it was warm. Although I’d now spent 6 of the last 9 months in the tropics such warmth and sunlight was still a novelty. The guys over here called this ‘winter’ (22+°C) and I’d seen plenty of them wearing woolly hats and coats, it was hilarious! I love England but it’s just too cold for me and I prefer an average colour spectrum that extends beyond numerous shades of grey.
(My foorprint on top of an elephant print, skink, river sign, porcupine damage, olifants river, hoodie incubating – phone camera picture via binoculars).
The hoodie project has 3 main components:
- Recording nesting behaviour and rearing success, using camera traps set up on the nests.
- Searching for new nest sites.
- Monitoring vulture restaurants by means of camera traps to ascertain which species visit the restaurant and how hoodie densities change throughout the seasons.
Every aspect of the fieldwork was fantastic. It was impressive to watch Lindy (aka the vulture lady) ascend the trees with her harness and ropes and then, later on, to see the pictures showing how the birds behaved in their nests and which other species might visit.
Searching for new nests was wonderful too, as it involved scrambling over rocks, through bushes and jumping between boulders to cross rivers– the area was stunning and teeming with wildlife. On my first two bush walks I saw 3 species of heron (including the largest in the world – the goliath), a crocodile, 3 species of antelope, elephants crashing about on the opposite river bank, pugmarks and scat galore, a yellow-bellied sand snake, 3 species of kingfisher (I adore these), massive red and blue borer (carpenter) bees all dangling on a vine, and a billion birds.
During each walk we had also come across a lot of munched-up crabs which is a sure sign that otters were near-by. As we finished up our second survey and made it back to the car, it was suggested that we should chill out at the top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the river. Why not? It was a beautiful place. As we watched kingfishers and hornbills fly about I suddenly noticed movement down among the rocks and couldn’t believe my eyes.
Were those otters?
No! I’m never the person to spot something exciting – am I?
NO! I’m sure I’m right; they’re clawless otters!
As I frantically pointed at the river and said nothing more helpful than ‘otters, otters!’, Lindy and John both eventually saw the pair too as they clambered along the rocks and made their merry way upstream. It was phenomenal! And to top it all off I couldn’t wait to visit some of my favourite places, VULTURE RESTAURANTS!